07/19/2012 02:56 pm ET | Updated Jul 19, 2012

California Test Cheating: Schools Could Face Penalties After Students Take Photos Of Standardized Exams, Post Them Online

Nearly 150 California schools could be in hot water after students took photos of state standardized tests and posted them on social networks, the Los Angeles Times reports.

In a letter sent to all state school districts this week, the Department of Education announced that the release of the test scores would be delayed by two weeks, until Aug. 31.

According to a Department spokesman, most of the posted images were of “closed test booklets or blank answer documents.” But 36 different test questions were clearly legible in the images posted online, KCBS reports.

The state and the Educational Testing Service based in Princeton, N.J. are currently investigating the security breach, and experts have so far determined that test scores were unaffected at the state or district level, though individual schools’ scores remain under review, the Times reports.

Since the start of the testing period in April, 249 students posted 442 images on social-networking sites, including Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Webstagram and Pinterest. The 147 affected schools represent 94 school districts, and the state has identified one middle school and 11 high schools where one or more students posted test items online.

Officials are weighing concerns that extend beyond the 36 compromised test items. A student who posted a photo of him or herself posing with a test booklet, for example, could have also taken photos of test items that were disseminated among friends, but never actually posted online.

Schools where students took the photos could face discipline, such as a loss of scores on the state’s Academic Performance Index. That in turn could make a school susceptible to the loss of grants or sanctions, since being stripped of a score indicates a school hasn’t met performance targets. The scoring formula for schools where students exposed questions is being adjusted, the Associated Press reports.

A school can lose its score if 5 percent of tests are invalidated, according to the Times.

North Hollywood High Principal Randy Delling isn’t surprised the issue has arisen.

“The teenagers aren't held accountable in any way, shape or form for the test. Of course they're going to take a picture with a cellphone," Delling told the Times. "They also write the names of their boyfriend or girlfriend in the bubbles on the answer sheet."

A San Francisco high school student took a photo of a question and posted it online for her friends -- not because she wanted to cheat, but because she found the question silly, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Earlier this month, Stuyvesant junior Nayeem Ahsan was expelled from the elite New York City public school after he was caught using his cell phone to take pictures of the state’s Regents exams and distribute test answers to over 50 classmates. Seventy-one students had their tests voided as a result of the cheating scandal, and will retake the exams.